Monday, January 29, 2007

gotta love a blue-sky day in Breckenridge

Yesterday, I went on an outing to Breckenridge with some of my favorite amigas. There to celebrate Carrie's birthday, we took in the final day of the snow sculpting contest and walked around town. When Carrie and Jenny hit the trail for some cross country skiing, Abbie and I went to chill at a local coffee shop. We had a perfect seat by the window where the sun warmed our faces, and we drank chai listening to that sort of hippie coffee shop music that I imagine would be far more enjoyable in some sort of drug induced state. After a relaxing time of just resting and reading, we painted up the car windows with some birthday greetings, pciked up our fellow travelers, and drove home.

At the end of the day, I found myself reminded that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, have some of the most incredible heart-friends around, and that we should pause a lot more often to celebrate them both!

Friday, January 26, 2007

what I'm saying is...

One of my goals for this year is to read Proverbs each month (made handy by the fact that there are 31 chapters). As with most wisdom literature, it is a little scattered; each chapter contains several different principles and challenges to digest. In the same chapter, we find both a command not to eat so much honey as to yak, and a dismal description of the pains of living with a nagging wife (25).

One of the most prevalent themes within Proverbs is that of right speech. Again and again, gossip is condemned, as are false witness and pointless flattery. The things that have challenged me most, however, have to do with words of encouragement, loving admonition, and apt replies. These are described as gold and silver, as sweet to the taste and refreshing to the soul. It's beautiful, really.

As I think about how we, as Christians, approach our speech, I see that we often define godly speech by what we don't say. We don't cuss, we avoid gossip and hurtful sarcasm, we try not to make too many crude jokes. These are all very important, each of them listed in Scripture as things to be avoided. Still, Proverbs has been challenging me on a new level. Perhaps we should not stop at what it is we shouldn't be saying, but be asking all the more how it is we should be using our words. Is it enough that our speech is clean, even if it is still a little fruitless and less than useful?

Ephesians 4:29 says this:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

My speech isn't usually all that unwholesome (though I make no claims to be angelic). But does it really benefit those who listen? Do I speak only what is helpful for building others up? These are important questions for the follower of Christ, and to take them seriously would involve much thought and intentionality. The Bible is pretty clear that the tongue is a powerful instrument, whether used for good or evil. We all know that the spoken word has the power to encourage and to destroy, to open eyes and to blind them, to guide and to lead astray. What an amazing witness we would become if we went beyond avoiding that which brings Christ disgrace, and strove to purposely foster that which brings him the greatest glory--learning to speak words of life. I want to be one who speaks a kind word to a hurting heart, a loving rebuke to a wandering friend, an apt reply to one seeking wisdom. I want to be one whose words are purposeful and rich with truth.

Are your words life-giving, or just acceptably clean? May it be that our speech is a noticeable part of our discipleship, and our conversation always full of the love of Christ.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

engrave it upon my heart

One of the most challenging quotes I have heard in the last year, found in a coffee shop we stopped at on the way to the Grand Canyon:

"Engrave this upon my heart: There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story."

-Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB (Order of St. Benedict...she's a monk)

...Credit also goes to Sister Kownacki for "most fun to say" last name of the week.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Early Church Fathers II

John Chrysostom (349-407)

As Bishop of Constantinople (though he was first a lawyer, then a monk turned preacher), John fearlessly spoke out against the injustices that had begun to overtake the church. Since the time of Constantine, who declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire in the early 4th century, large sectors of the church traded the simple, profound faith of common people for a national religion marked by pomp, politics and decadence. John, seeing the dangers this posed to the gospel, would have none of it.

Despite holding a position in the largest church in the empire, regularly preaching before the most powerful of political figures, John spoke boldly against the gross abuses in the church, particularly those which exploited and neglected the poor:

"How think you that you obey Christ's commandments, when you spend your time collecting interest, piling up loans, buying slaves like livestock, and merging business with business?...And that is not all. Upon all this you heap injustice, taking possession of lands and houses, and multiplying poverty and hunger."

"The gold bit on your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, 'How many tears did it take to build that mansion; how many orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?' Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers."

John's forthright words led him to several terms of exile (though the people always demanded he be returned to Constantinople), and brought about persecution, banishment, and torture for his friends and followers. Even in exile, he wrote against the actions of the Emperor (whose influence over the church was immense). John's death came on the journey to his final place of exile, when the soldiers escorting him pushed him beyond the limits of his failing health. Kneeling before the altar in a small roadside chapel, John's final sermon was this:

"In all things, glory to God. Amen."

Props go to John today, for using great influence and a gift for preaching to ruffle the feathers of the complacent, and to give a voice to those who would otherwise never be heard.

(For some more not-too-dense reading on early church history, check out Justo L. Gonzalez' "The Story of Christianity", Vol. 1.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

perspective for the academic

There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge;
that is curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others;
that is vanity.
There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve;
that is love.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Friday, January 19, 2007

you're it

Alright, it happened to me, and now it's happening to you. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged and get to answering these questions on your own blog!

1. What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why?
Working at a home for troubled boys, and creating new ways to teach material to special ed kids, just because both are so darn rewarding.

2. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did?
Dancing. I have no idea what has made me so hesitant now. Drawing and singing would be right up there, too.

3. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off?
Work on publishing some writing. There are so many more, but I'll spare you the lengthy list.

4. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why?
I'd love to learn to play the guitar, simply because I am a lover of music and would enjoy being able to play at the drop of a hat. I'd like to improve on my knowledge of outdoor skills--all the cool things that open doors for even greater adventure.

5. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn?
For today, I'd want to sit at the feet of John Chrysostom, a monk, bishop, and preacher who lived in the 4th century. I'd want to learn what it means to live in simplicty and humility, yet speak out boldy against injustice.

6. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?
compassionate, authentic, adventurous

7. Now list two more words you wish described you…
disciplined, peaceful

8. What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes)
learning (writing is a outgrowth), the poor/overlooked/ashamed, and adventure

9. Write–and answer–one more question that YOU would ask someone.
What do you want your legacy to be?

Honesty and freedom, leading to deeper love and compassion. I want the church to be a little more authentic because I was there, and for the world to feel more accepted because I shared my own junk and learned to see people, not failures.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Early Church Fathers

Really cool church father for the day: Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 A.D.)

Reasons I'm a fan:

1. His name is Polycarp. Believe it or not, that does not mean "many ugly fish". Still, it's just a great name.

2. Here's the real reason: Standing before a Roman official, Polycarp was commanded to acknowledge Caesar as lord and king, and to curse Christ. (This command was at the threat of being burned at the stake.) His reply was this: "For eighty-six years I have been the servant of Jesus Christ and he never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

Polycarp was matryred that day, but he left a legacy so profound that a seminary student 1,852 years later is giving him props on her blog.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

why the middle of nowhere is better than point A to B

I actually like getting lost. I love detours. I am a fan of wrong turns and U-turns and it's my turn to decipher the map. I like it because life, to me, is all about good stories. And good stories are seldom found on smooth rides from point A to point B. Granted, good conversations can come about in those times--but really, why not get lost and have a longer talk?

It's not just about travel, though. It's about all of life's day to day occurrences. If we approach life without our expectations set in stone, without an obsessive need for efficiency and smooth sailing, the best things in life will often show up when circumstances go amiss. That place of not-quite-how-I-planned-it is where most of my best memories lie.

...Like the time Karen and I dropped Brent's football down a storm drain and had a serious adventure getting it back out (see earlier post).

Or when the plunger didn't quite work, and our bathroom flooded...

(we both agreed this was the best part of our week).

Or how about when Carrie and I took a bit of a wrong turn while biking in Moab, and got to discover what it's like to mountain bike at night, without head lamps (photo is as the sun sets on our farthest point from the trailhead)

Or perhaps the time when our nice little ride around a reservoir became a forever-long, frozen toed, "please just get me home" opportunity for laughter. Almost as good as starting out for a nice fall hike up Pikes Peak, only to face freezing winds, slow going, and a boarded up building at the summit.

The list goes on and on. The hospital visit in Argentina that brought together a less-than-united mission team. The wrong turn while backpacking that got us so lost we had to spend an extra night out in the wilderness. The attempt to clear out a drain in the sink using a clothes hanger, only to hear a little pop and watch water pour forth from the newly punctured pipe. The two hour "where are we?" drive that made us just late enough to be in the right place, at the right time to share the gospel with a troubled teen.

Things go wrong...a lot. When I have the wrong perspective, I complain...a lot. But I think God meant for us to enjoy the fumbles and foibles in life and in each other. Who knows? Abundant life just may be waiting for us one wrong turn off our nicely planned trip from A to B.

Monday, January 15, 2007

winter's wonderful side

As a little relief from a lot of text (enthralling though it may be), I offer some pics from a recent hike up Queens Canyon. Like so many places in Colorado, it finds unique beauty in each season. Though the hike itself was slicker than owl snot (as my friend Brent would say), the surroundings were well worth the time spent on timid steps and narrow misses.

Hmmm...I wonder, What does it means for our own lives if God shaped his creation to display unique beauties season by season?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

God, culture, money, and me

I recently hit a little financial trouble. Any graduate student knows that such tight spots are bound to come. You buy the cheaper brands, eat a few too many microwaveable things, and try not to drive anywhere that requires a lot of gas. All of this is just in the hopes that your tiny number in the black will not turn into a huge number in the red before that loan check finally comes in.

Unfortunately, due to a mistake or two, my black turned into red. Big red. And that loan check? Nowhere in sight. Thankfully, I still have a solid supply of canned spinach, tuna, and instant grits.

Clearly though, the stress level has gone up a bit. To those around me, I'm sure it seems that I am worried about running out of food, or not having gas when I need to get somewhere, or staring at red when rent comes due. And though I do have some concern for those things, they really aren't the reason I feel stressed out. See, I have seen God come through for me in the most incredible ways when money has grown scarce. He has never let me down--not once. I don't expect that part of his faithfulness to change.

These financial straits don't make me worry about practical lack; rather, they stress me out because they leave me wondering if I am enough. Every bone in my culturally-conditioned body begins to ache with the weight of feeling as if I am failing to be "productive". Failing to provide for myself so I never have to accept charity--though many times undeserved gifts are exactly how God has chosen to provide. I don't take on the crazy schedule I see among some other students, balancing family and school and a full-time job. I don't do it because I know the importance of rest for my rather precarious health. I don't do it because there have been times when I have genuinely sensed God asking me not to seek a job for a season. I don't do it because it just looks miserable to me. And most of the time, I am ok with that.

Yet all of this flies in the face of my culture, the American dream and the worship of the almighty dollar. Concern for image creeps in, and I begin to wonder if I appear lazy or irresponsible to others. What do my friends think? Am I insane to be living my life the way I do? Then, as I allow the questions to swirl, the voice of God and the voice of culture lose their clear distiction. Is my culture disappointed in me, or is God himself wondering why I don't just put in some more work and earn my keep? Does my culture think it pathetic to accept the gift given when I am in need, or does God himself think I am a lazy freeloader?

Here is where I must again and again spend time listening to the Father, the kind of time that can clear out the clouded questions and plant my feet on truth. I write this blog on the beginning side of that process, still confused and feeling unsure of myself. But I know that, rather than wake up and worry about whether or not I'm enough, God wants me ask him all my questions and listen for his words of truth. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what my culture says or what those around me think. It matters that I have listened for His guidance and obeyed. Sometimes that will fit the mold of cultural normalcy; other times, it will be countercultural to the core. But in the end, he is my Master--not money.

The question is not, Am I enough? The question is, Am I listening? Am I allowing him to show me who he is, right in the middle of my big red mess? Only then will I be able to hear him tell me who it is I need to be in that place, too. Not a matter of being enough--just a matter of being His.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

living in broad daylight

Over the last few months, I have been struck by how often the Bible speaks about light and dark. As believers, we are reminded that darkness was once our dwelling place, yet we are encouraged again and again to leave behind the "fruitless deeds of darkness" in order to "live as children of the light". However, John paints a pretty good picture of how the people of God often respond:

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
(John 3:19-21)

The writers of the New Testament knew well the temptation faced by every man and woman: to keep at least some part of our lives hidden in the dark, either because we are not ready to give something up, or because we fear shame. Many people feel like hiding is the easier, safest option, because it lets us avoid the messy process of changes and exposures and restoration. It doesn't require us to face ourselves and deal with what we see, nor does it demand that we risk allowing anyone else to really see us. It lets us control our image without actually lining our lives up to match that image (though we all know it will backfire somewhere down the line).

What I am beginning to realize is that we've got it completely backwards. Living in the dark--fearing exposure and clinging to things that will kill us--is a far more exhausting and complicated way to live. Choosing to face the temporary embrassment of allowing our lives to be exposed is followed by the incredible freedom that comes with having nothing to hide. This is the freedom for which Christ has set us free! (Galatians 5:1)

More and more, I find that I want nothing to do with the shame and struggle of clinging to the things of darkness, no matter how tantalizing and comforting they may look. Yes, I am quite attached to some of those things, and yes, there are some of them I would rather not bring out where the world can see them. But that life of hiding is no life at all. I want a life that I can live in broad daylight, unafraid of being "found out." Sure, I still squirm when I have to confess taking a dark detour or embracing one of the fruitless deeds I have been called to leave behind. That uncomfortable squirming, however, is worth knowing that any love and respect I recieve from those around me is based on the real me, not just the pleasant parts I choose to let them see. When sin tempts me into the shadows, stirring in me overpowering longings for its false answers, the joy of that freedom pulls me back into the light.

As John said, it is when we live in the light that the world can see God's power through our often messy lives. And if it's true that we can trust God to do good and powerful things in our lives, regardless of our struggles and weaknesses, then we have everything to offer, and absolutely nothing to hide. We are free to live our lives in the brightest light of day.

"Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."
(Ephesians 5:14b)

Friday, January 05, 2007

the prophet's words, take 2: for a people

Sing, my people!
Shout your joy from the rooftops!
Let your hearts be glad!

I am relenting from my anger.
I myself am pushing back your enemies,
those instruments of punishment,
all who have made you tremble and grow weary.
I am among you, your king!
You do not need to fear;
No, never again will you need to be afraid.

I say to you, "Lift up your heads!"
I am with you,
a mighty warrior on your behalf.
You are my people, my delight.
Be at rest in my love for you,
hear the songs of joy I sing over you,
my people, my children.

The weight of your sorrow and mourning
will lift from your shoulders.
Vengeance is mine against those who have hurt you.
I am your defender; leave them to me.

Ah, my broken people, I will rescue you;
I will gather those scattered by fear.
In every place where you were put to shame,
I will restore you to honor,
and the world will know that I love you.
like a Father loves his children.
Yes, the whole world will see.

I promise this to you, my scattered people-
wait for me, and I will gather you to myself.
Yes, I will bring you home.

(for earlier post on this passage, see "the prophets words become my song")

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


To a prostitute, filthy and ashamed, who wept at his feet and poured out her perfume:

A proclamation of forgiveness in the presence of those who would condemn her, and a promise that her great love will be remembered through the ages. Then, "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

To a woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years, declared unclean and untouchable, rejected and isolated by her community:

A call to emerge from the crowd to be seen and restored. And then, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

To an adulterous woman, judged by Mosaic law to be worthy of stoning, dragged into daylight and exposed in her sin:

A defense before those who would end her life in shame, and a reminder that her sin is no greater than any other. Then, "Neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin."

Thousands of years later, I stand before the same Jesus and wait for words of disappointment, disgust, and a resigned acceptance that is void of delight. Have I been listening to single word he said?

I pray today for ears that hear.